Hope Tastes like Lemonies
When hope was invented, the Roman Empire believed in oracles.
There was one who was more famous than the others, or so I remember, and it was called the Sybil. The Sybil had a lot of customers. Believers. People. However you want to call them.
When I first went to her, I could see both results of my future equally and vividly behind my eyes. There was one future where I was dead in the war. My lover received the news and was devastated. My things were dusty in my house until one day someone got them and sold them, unnamed, forgotten. In the other one, we won.
I knelt in front of the Sybil and felt my heart stutter with hope. There was no other way for us but to win. There was no other way my life could go but see the enemy fall slowly to their death until we finally rejoiced. It was all very fast in my head, and my hands curled in fists with my tunic inside them. My palms ached as my heart did. I waited for her to tell me what would have happened and what could not be changed.
Her responses came in leaves with words etched on them. I took the first one with trembling, red fingers. Die. Another one. Will. Another one. You. The. Return. Will not. And. War. In.
My eyes skimmed over them. For a moment they occupied all my vision. You will return and won’t die in the war. You will not return and will die in the war.
If you ask a therapist if they think you actually have cancer, chances are they won’t say “yes” or “no.”
If you ask your mother, for the hundredth time that day, why you still feel pain in your chest even if doctors told you that it’s not a heart attack, she will sigh.
There’s a universal rule for anxiety: Don’t feed it.
I know: It’s not easy. Don’t turn to see if there’s actually something scary in the dark, just to calm down. Don’t double check the symptoms looking for the ones you have. Don’t book another hospital appointment. Don’t ask that person if they love you another time.
At the end of the day, you sit in the heart of your house and try to find yourself there. You had a nightmare about this. Everyone in your community was there (eight people) and all of them were very calm and almost having fun while a monster massacred you all. There’s something similar that happens in your head almost daily: You tell people the world is scary for you, and they laugh back at you.
So, I don’t have cancer. I’m not going blind. I didn’t die in a plane crash. My partner didn’t stop loving me. I’m not a bad person.
But within all of this, there are so many other things that could end up being severly fucked up. I’m just trying to see the bright side in them.
When I was in ancient Rome and about to go to war, I didn’t feel very different from how I feel now. I still had that feeling that I could ask someone how the future would be, and they’d tell me the truth. If they lied, I could be angry at them for a while and then forget about it when a new anxiety arrived.
The world starts becoming dangerous by 7:00 p.m., when the sun sets. The sky turns a little darker, and you look inside yourself and panic. You’re so far away from home. You’re so far away from a cozy fire. You’re so far away and the night is setting. The night is coming. You’re freezing to death in the parts of yourself that can’t be brightened by cat videos.
For the recipe I made tonight, I used lemon. Lemon zest, juice, no seeds. The lemonies came out spectacular.
I cook a lot, because it makes me feel like there’s a home inside me wherever I go. Like there’s no place where I will have to rely on the kindness of strangers. Like I can still take something in my hands and not only turn it into something good, but into something nutritious.
I was scared of losing my house for a long time when I was a child. I still feel like that. Like if I move, I might lose all I have.
Hope tastes like lemonies and the aftermath of another fight with your father. You remember but you don’t pay much attention. It’s okay. He sounds like a broken record when he repeats things that would have hurt you when you were a kid. And that’s okay, today, because the lemon tastes new, flowery, like a song. There’s something inside it that belongs to the table that you invented, not him. He can’t sing this song. He can’t cook this plate. Only you can.
Archangel Belletti is a queer Latinx student of American Literature. Hir poems and short fiction appear at Outwrite Dc, Cerasus, and others. On hir Instagram, sie posts about modern queerness in fiction and real life (@irbelletti). When sie doesn’t write, sie trains in krav maga and reads books about LGBTQIAA+ heroes.
A Song for Archangel